Season 6 will be the second season under new ownership here in the Windy City. Season 5 showed signs of progress for the Pale Hose. Despite finishing just below .500 at 80-82, the Sox outscored their opponents by 84 runs in season 5. That projects to an 89-73 record normally. So the Sox really underperformed their true talent last year. The vast majority of the blame has to go to the bullpen, which was atrocious at times and had a gaping hole at closer. The Sox one major Free Agent signing this offseason was a major move to address that deficiency. Let's take a look at the team.
First Base: Benji O'Keefe
O'Keefe established himself as a force to be reckoned with as a rookie in S5, putting up .284/.348/.561 with 38 HR and 105 RBI. He was a top 5 selection for the AL ROY. At 24, he should be a solid contributor for seasons to come.
Second Base: Carlton Barker
Barker was the Sox' biggest FA signing of S5 and he paid immediate dividends. Barker won the Silver Slugger award for 2B, posting a .315/.393/.523 line with 26 HR, 95 RBI and 35 SB from the top of the order. He also scored 114 runs. Barker earned his hefty paycheck of $8.75 million and will be expected to repeat his S5 performance. His range has diminished at age 32, so there are concerns about his defense. The White Sox system is rich in 2B prospects, so he will need to remain at the top of his game to avoid being shifted to the outfield.
Shortstop: Wilfredo Lopez
Lopez may carry a bat made of balsa wood, but his glove is made of the finest leather. Lopez won the AL Gold Glove award in S5, making 9 + plays and just 12 errors. As long as he's vacuuming up balls in the IF, he should continue to play regularly and keep the job from Delanor Hemingway, who is also a gifted fielder with some power. Both are young, Lopez is 25 and Hemingway is 27.
Third Base: Neal Kelly
Kelly carries a lot of thunder in his stick. Kelly led the AL in HR's with 52 while driving in 119 runs. His line of .272/.338/.566 was rock solid. Kelly was underutilized as a DH under the previous regime. While his defense is not stellar, it is more than adequate to play the field regularly. Kelly is just 28 and was signed this offseason to a very reasonable 4 year contract at $4 million per season. Expect another truckload of bombs this year.
Left Field: Davey Morales
Morales is another power bat in the Sox lineup. Morales contributed 31 HR and 91 RBI while posting .260/.339/.473 in S5. In three big league seasons, Morales has averaged 34 HR per season. An adequate defender, Morales would seem to be holding a place for super-prospect Benito Andujar, whose ETA is S7. His reasonable arb-contract of $1.8 million makes him a sensible holdover this year.
Center Field: Juan Diaz
After GM Ferris Bueller dealt high-ceiling CF Paul Wagner early in S5, the job fell to Diaz. Diaz is a player of modest talents, but he stepped up and outperformed Wagner, posting .275/.355/.373 from the #2 spot in the lineup. He also chipped in 26 SB and solid defense. Diaz would seem to have a hold on the position for the next 1-2 seasons until prospect Aaron Taylor is ready.
Right Field: Deivi Mercado
Deivi is a player that seems like he should be better than he is. He is talented, with good splits, power and a decent eye. He posted .256/.327/.456 in S5 with 30HR and 96 RBI. He was drafted as a SS and was the franchise's first #1 draft pick, going #17 overall. At just $378K, Mercado is worth the starting nod for another season, but a lack of improvement may hurt his chances with the team long term.
Catcher: Sandy Webster
Sandy was acquired from the Reds before S5 to address the Sox' serious OBP deficiency. Webster delivered, hitting .319/.399/.452 from the #3 hole. His defense and pitch calling is merely adequate, which is why the Sox keep a defensive stalwart, Teddy Smalley, on the roster to back Sandy up.
DH: Josias Vega
Vega is yet another youngster on the Sox roster at 25, but is entering his 4th ML season. Vega's specialty is hitting RHP and getting on base. His .305/.369/.459 line shows he succeeded at that goal. This is an area that could be open to upgrade, should the Sox find the right deal.
SP1: Garry Brinkley
Garry is a 22 y.o. wunderkind and was the #1 overall selection in the Season 2 draft. S5 was his rookie year, and after a mediocre first half, he tore through the league after the All Star break. His final numbers showed a 16-9 record in 33 starts. He threw 218.1 innings and posted a 3.13 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. Brinkley earned a spot on the AL ROY ballot for that performance. The Sox expect big things from Brinkley in S6 and a 20 win season is not out of the question.
SP2: Daryl Payton
Payton was the 2nd big free agent signing of the S5 preseason and was handed a handsome 5 year contract that pays about $11 million per season. Payton has a terrific 80-46 career record, but was only 13-12 with a 4.05 ERA in S5. Payton is going to need to improve on those numbers to pull the Sox into playoff contention in S6.
SP3: Thomas Connor
Connor is entering his 5th season in Chicago pinstripes. After signing a 3 year/$21 million extension before S5, Connor posted a solid 12-6 mark with a 4.01 ERA in 197.1 innings. With his good control and solid splits, the 29 y.o. Connor should anchor the #3 spot this year.
SP4: Felipe Lee
Lee is the sole left hander in the rotation. Lee is just 23 y.o. and has some ability. He comes off a disappointing S5, when he went just 9-14 with a 5.01 ERA. He started 32 games but pitched just 169 innings. That's not going to get it done. If Lee can return to S4 form and post a mid 4's ERA and pitch over 180 innings, he will be an asset.
SP5: Ned Gaston
Gaston has a lot of ability, when he knows where the ball is going. The current White Sox regime places a large emphasis on control, which would seem to make Gaston's position in the rotation tenuous. Still, the 25 y.o. went 9-12 last season with a 4.96 ERA in 194.2 innings. That's not bad for a #5 starter. Still, Gaston would seem to be keeping a seat warm for Kane Delaney, who will be starting at AAA in S6.
Long Relievers: Eugene Carey Warren Perez
Both are options as starters, but given their control problems, seem best suited for long relief roles. While Perez was nothing special in S5, Carey posted a 3.05 ERA in 85.2 innings. He may see some time in the rotation should Gaston or Lee falter.
Setup Men: Torey Lee Al Tomlinson Ben Gray Ira Lawrence
Lee and Lawrence were nice finds by GM Bueller in S5. Lee was picked up in the Rule 5 draft and posted a 3.81 ERA in 106.1 innings. That is a valuable setup man, and he's a lefty to boot! Lawrence was released by the Rockies in S5. So while the Rockies pay Lawrence's $5.6 million salary for the next 3 seasons, Ira comes off a 3.44 ERA in 55 innings.
Tomlinson is last year's (failed) closer. While he converted 28/34 saves in S5, he was awful in other situations, posting a 2-11 mark with a 6.84 ERA. He has been shifted to 2nd lefty behind Lee. He has talent and may perform better in lower leverage situations. He had 2 fine seasons before S5.
Ben Gray was a F.A. signing before S5 and disappointed. He was paid $5 million (incl. bonus) in S5 and rewarded the ChiSox with a 5.59 ERA in 75.2 innings. He also has a better prior track record and is hoping to rebound.
Closer: Yuniesky Romano
Romano is this season's big free agent prize for the Sox. After a bidding war, the Sox signed Romano to a 3 year/$20 million contract. At 35 y.o., Romano is a risk, but the Sox have cranked up their training budget in an attempt to keep his (and the other vets) skills sharp. Romano has 135 career saves and a 3.21 ERA. He is desperately needed to stabilize the end of the game and allow the Sox to play up to their Pythag record.
The Sox had the talent of an 89-73 team last season. Had they played up to that run differential, they would have snagged the #1 wild card slot in S5. By addressing the bullpen woes, the Sox hope to close the gap between potential and reality. Another year for young studs like Brinkley and O'Keefe should also help. The goal of this year's Sox is to finish with 88-92 wins and make the playoffs. The ultimate goal is S7, with the integration of prospects Andujar and Delaney, followed by Taylor in S8 when the Sox hope to compete for the whole ball of wax.